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Jan Brueghel the Elder, Harbour Scene with Christ preaching

Key facts
Full title Harbour Scene with Christ preaching
Artist Jan Brueghel the Elder
Artist dates 1568 - 1625
Date made 1597
Medium and support Oil on copper
Dimensions 26.4 × 35.7 cm
Inscription summary Dated and inscribed
Acquisition credit On loan from a private collection
Inventory number L1112
Location Room 17
Image copyright On loan from a private collection
Collection Main Collection
Harbour Scene with Christ preaching
Jan Brueghel the Elder

A crowd gathers around one of the fishing boats moored halfway up the coastline. Bright sunlight illuminates the faces turned toward the figure of Christ addressing them with outstretched arms.

In this world, or panoramic landscape, the foreground is dominated by brown tones, the middle ground by green tones, and the background by blue tones. These plans of recession are used by Brueghel to imitate the effects of atmospheric perspective and thus create an illusion of the landscape’s depth. This compositional structure, along with the pattern of sunlight and shadow, gives order to the crowd that is represented. The presence of 'repoussoir' figures – larger scale characters in the foreground – encourages the spectator to enter the painting.

This copper was painted after the 'Coastal landscape with the sacrifice of Jonah' of 1595 (sold Sotheby’s London, 03/12/2008, lot #10), in which there are already some of the characters that Brueghel used two years later. It also anticipates the artist’s much larger version of the same motif, painted on canvas in 1598 (Munich, Alte Pinakothek), in which there are no more repoussoir characters.

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